Giants stamp cup final ticket in Panthers thriller
A David Goodwin double was enough to see Adam Keefe’s side through another tense encounter, taking a 2-1 victory in front of a thunderous SSE Arena.
Following a stellar individual performance on Sunday, the Nottingham Panthers were forced to rely on goalie Kevin Carr once more, in a first period littered with ‘grade A’ chances from the Belfast Giants.
Carr was peppered with wave after wave of Giants rushes, good zone movement and opportunities created from an aggressive, high tempo forecheck.
Griffin Reinhart was first to draw gasps from around the arena when his one timer from the blue line was turned away three minutes in, but he was far from the only one. Slater Doggett and David Goodwin followed up by coming close as mid-period approached.
Returning Giants forward Darcy Murphy took his first shifts and looked comfortable on his feet, turning sharply and playing physical.
The Giants breakthrough finally came at 17.14, when Scott Conway’s pass to Goodwin was unleashed low glove-side on Carr. (1-0)
Mark Garside’s interference call at 25.22 sent Nottingham onto their first power play of the game, and it didn’t take long for Jeremy Welsh to convert unassisted at 25.47. (1-1)
The Giants missed a chance to respond when Brady Norrish sat for cross checking at 30:32.
They did however bravely kill off Ciaran Long’s slashing penalty at 33:03, as the Panthers cycled the zone well and passed tape to tape.
Dismay rang around the arena at 35.27 when Lewis Hook was called for interference on Panthers goalie Carr - the Teal Army apparently united in their disagreement on the call.
The Panthers continued to look dangerous in the zone, needing a superb glove save from Jackson Whistle who was being screened in-close by Mathieu Tousignant.
A sensational diving poke check by Mark Cooper set up David Goodwin for his second of the game, edging Belfast back into the lead at 38.29 (Second assist: Scott Conway). (2-1)
As time elapsed on the second period, the skirmishes breaking out in front of the benches were telling of a hotly contested, physical battle.
The atmosphere in the SSE Arena was electric as the puck dropped on a physical, end to end period of hockey.
Carr continued to be the Nottingham Panthers standout, pulling off at-times inconceivable saves to keep his side in the game.
But try as they might, the Panthers could not find a way inside on Jackson Whistle. And when the Giants goalie was tested, he was rock solid.
JJ Piccinich took a slashing call at 47:47, tense scenes for the vocal Giants crowd. But once again, the Belfast kill unit shut the door.
Brady Norrish returned to the box for cross checking at 51:59, an unsuccessful opportunity for the Giants to bag a much needed insurance goal.
Carr headed to his bench with one minute and change remaining, and with an utterly electric crowd behind them, the Belfast Giants defended for their lives against the extra skater.
As time elapsed, and the Belfast Giants stamped their ticket to the Challenge Cup Final, the Teal Army blew the roof off.
Focus returns to the Elite League this weekend as the Belfast Giants travel to Coventry on Saturday for a showdown with the Blaze, before returning home to the SSE Arena on Sunday at 4pm to take on the Manchester Storm.
Pictures by Darren Kidd/Presseye.